We’ve seen so much focus on war and killing, that it’s more than refreshing to see a major step toward future peace. It’s also a relief. Barack Obama and John Kerry (who did the heavy lifting) along with Iran’s negotiators have rendered us a great service in securing a deal. Combined with ending our ineffective fifty-year isolation of Cuba, the president perhaps more than any other recent White House occupant, is taking us forward rather than keeping us mired in the past. He is thinking of and for the next generation. It is a great day for the world and for the United States of American. It is also, I firmly believe, a great day for the Mideast and especially so for Israel and its security.
Unsurprisingly, Bibi Netanyahu who traffics in fear not peace has loudly denounced the deal. He even made a desperate and comical 11th hour appeal in Farsi to the Iranian people, effectively siding with their hardliners. Not so strange bedfellows. I don’t really get this man. He seems so consistently to be working against his country’s best and even vital interests. Thinking in the context of our own politics, I see Bibi as a combination of the angry John McCain with the staged bluster of Donald Trump. Aside from the occasional disingenuous smile, his trademark demeanor is best described by the Yiddish word “verbissen” — embittered doesn’t quite do it justice. With regard to Iran, Netanyahu’s hand in the negotiations has always been weak starting with Israel’s being the region’s only nuclear state. But his real weakness stems directly from his part in the failure of John Kerry’s earlier marathon effort to bring peace between Israel and Palestine. Bibi is no Begin, no Rabin. Potential and real enemies may surround Israel, but neither Egypt nor Jordan with whom they made peace are among them. The real existential threat Israel faces is far more from not having made peace with the Palestinians than from hostile Arab states or Iran.
The occupation of Palestine has been used as an excuse for, and rallying point of, often-hyped hostility and hate pointed toward Israel. Ending the occupation and finally seeing a Palestinian State would take the wind out of that sail. Sadly, Bibi and his hardline rightist cohort use the same excuse in reverse. It was employed disgracefully before our Congress and in drumming up fear in Israel’s last election. As he pontificates to the cheers of the Aipac crowd or his conservative GOP soul mates, the marketing of fear as a must-have consumer product is palpable. Forget the moral need to end the occupation or making peace with Israel’s closest neighbor and potential economic partner. Completing the deal upon which Kerry worked so hard would have put Israel in a totally different position. Beyond, lowering hostility it in the region, Bibi could have been an active partner in the Iran negotiations. That Israel was left on the sidelines rests totally on his shoulders. Indeed, just as I believe George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq increased the treat to our national security, I believe Bibi’s showmanship has undermined Israel’s.
The American, Israeli and Iranian publics don’t want the war that might have broken out absent a nuclear deal. Iran is a country of sophistication with a rich tradition and a substantial educated middleclass. It was the first nation (albeit under the Shah) to recognize the State of Israel with whom it had good relations. Iran would make a better partner than adversary. That’s true for us and equally true for countries in the region including Israel. Yes, they have a theocratic society and only limited democracy, but so too do many of the nations whom we count as allies, most notably the Saudis. They can be repressive, but so too can China and Egypt. You get the point.
Today was an important step toward a Mideast reset, but at least one more is needed. The urgency of ending the stalemate between Israel and Palestine has never been greater, nor the moment with more promise. Removing the nuclear threat from the table is a very big deal. Removing the time bomb threatening the Holy Land would be equally so. It would be wonderful if Kerry could return to that work, but time is running out on this administration. Peace in the Mideast will likely be part of the coming presidential debate, another reason to fear that one of the now fifteen wannabes will take charge of the White House. We don’t want Bibi or his thinking pulling strings in the Oval.